List of ways to improve drug discovery, development, and delivery independent of patents

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About the Drugs category:

Drugs are one of the signal cases for IP. To avoid trading freedom, equality, and security for drugs (pharma), other approaches to creating drugs, medical breakthroughs, and improving health outcomes overall must be taken.

The purpose of this list is to document ways drugs creation can be improved to:

  • illustrate opportunity cost of relying on patents for drugs: what if monopoly costs could be redirected to mechanisms that make creating drugs more efficient and do not increase inequality?
  • knock patent-incented drug creation down from its pedestal as highest status mechanism for improving health.

Many, perhaps all of these will be independent of drug patents, so they improve outcomes from patent-seeking drug creation as well as other arrangements. But in many cases their implementation will come down to better coordination of the sort also needed for an innovation system that does not rely on freedom-infringing grants of private property over knowledge. It’s possible some improvement mechanism could be a stronger complement for patent-seeking drug creation than for other arrangements, presumably a mechanism with very high capital costs. List a note those too: meet the challenge head on.

This is conceptually a very long list, but starting as a stub. Please chip in, it’s a wiki-post. :slight_smile: Also to a list of ways to improve health outcomes (other than through drugs) independent of patents, with similar aims.

Authenticate cell lines

Implement “a straightforward, low-cost (approximately $150) standard for authenticating human cell lines” to prevent using misidentified and contaminated cell lines in research which cost many billions of dollars. See the Global Biological Standards Institute #authenticate campaign and in Genetic Engineering News Irreproducibility: A $28B/Year Problem with some Tangible Solutions, latter briefly mentioning other issues for which interventions probably belong in this list.

Artificial Intelligence and standards for cheaper faster drug discovery

Cheaper faster drug development validated by the repositioning of drugs against neglected tropical diseases; note their data and code is linked in paper, latter released under GPLv3.

Data sharing

N-of-1 trials

See precision medicine

Open collaboration

Open source methodologies applied to drug discovery and development, eg by Open Source Drug Discovery and Open Source Malaria. Conference about these: Open Source Pharma (slides); growing into an Open Source Pharma Foundation. There may be multiple things pulled out of these methodologies and listed here, rather than as a generic entry. Do most of the improvements come from increased access to information about in-process research and increased contribution from people and entities who either wouldn’t collaborate or would have no ability to help with the research otherwise?

Outcome bonds

Post-innovation non-property incentive mechanisms could take many forms not necessarily called prizes (see below), e.g., social impact bonds or tradable social policy bonds. If properly constructed (Ronnie Horesh, inventor of the latter, emphasizes broad, non-manipulable, and non-financialized goals), these align nicely with the conceit of this list: there are lots of ways to gain better outcomes; policy should encourage discovery of the best ways rather than focus on one particular mechanism with terrible side effects (intellectual property, mainly patents) or specific innovations (often the case with prizes).


Prizes are frequently proposed as a direct alternative to patents, as they also provide a financial incentive. Much has been written about advantages and disadvantages of prizes; KEI’s prizes page lists many key resources.

Regulatory approval reciprocity

Seeking regulatory approval is one of the things that makes the discovery, development, and delivery cycle require large amounts of capital. One way to reduce the costs of regulatory approval and thus the amounts of capital needed is for regulators that approve drugs to grant reciprocity for drugs approved by equivalent agencies, e.g., the US FDA and EU EMA.

Drug pricing and transparency initiatives
3 econ-blogger posts not explicitly mentioning IP
Innovation prizes and innovative objectives
Fix the knowledge economy, not patents (re The Economist 1851 and 2015)
"Collaborative Innovation [Network]"
List of ways to improve health outcomes (other than through drug development) independent of patents
Open Science Prize voting and notes
#2 lists some trends making the cost of founding a biotech startup fall precipitously, predicting “biotech companies will soon be founded in garages, funded off their founders’ credit cards.”


Open Source Drug Discovery, in particular Open Source Malaria. Very interesting projects.


Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve read a bit about both but not enough to understand more than superficially. Added an inadequate entry above. My suspicion is these are two of the most exciting projects on the planet and everyone ought know more about them, starting with people worked up about “open” in software, data, etc., starting with me. :smile: